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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Picket, USS

by Paul Branch, 2006

The USS Picket was a small Union gunboat that fought during the Civil War in the sounds and rivers of North Carolina until September 1862, when it was sunk in the Tar River at Washington, N.C. The Union had purchased this civilian vessel for use in an expedition along the coast of North Carolina led by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside. The exact origin of the Picket was obscured by the existence of a larger, side-wheel steamer of the same name that also served during the war. The two vessels are sometimes confused in existing records.

The smaller Picket was one of seven armed propellers accompanying the Burnside expedition when it sailed for North Carolina in January 1862. The ships were collected in haste and formed a motley fleet that inspired skepticism among Burnside's officers and men as to their seaworthiness. Therefore, to demonstrate his own confidence in the vessels, Burnside chose the Picket (the smallest ship in the fleet) as his flagship for the voyage. After the Burnside expedition began operations in North Carolina waters, the Picket, with its shallow draft, proved to be particularly valuable for covering the landing of Union troops at Roanoke Island, New Bern, and Fort Macon.

On the morning of 6 Sept. 1862, as the Picket lay with the navy gunboat Louisiana in the Tar River at Washington, N.C., a Confederate force made a surprise attack on the town. Both gunboats went into action to shell the advancing Confederates, but the Picket was able to fire only one gun before it exploded and sank in the river, killing its captain, Sylvester D. Nicoll, along with 18 crewmen and leaving 6 others wounded.

Engraving labeled "The Burnside Expedition - Landing of the national troops on Roanoke Island, under cover of the Union gunboats Delaware and Picket." Image from


John S. Carbone, The Civil War in Coastal North Carolina (2001).

Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel, eds., Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, vol. 1 (1887-88).

Additional Resources:

Simms, Scott. "Sinking of The Picket." The Sag Harbor Express. September 7, 2012.  (accessed October 11, 2012).

dcbh. "22 February 1862: Illustration, 'The ‘Picket’ leading the ships of the Burnside expedition over Hatteras Bar.'" The Civil War Day by Day (blog). Louis Wilson Round Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  (accessed October 11, 2012).

"Picket." Community Images Researchable by Computer Access NC East, George H. and Laura E. Brown Library; Beaufort County Community College.  (accessed October 11, 2012).

Gaines, W. Craig. "Picket (James E. Winslow) (Launch No. 5) (USS Picket) (Picket Boat No. 5)." Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks. Louisiana State University Press. 2008.  (accessed October 11, 2012).

Image Credits:

"The Burnside Expedition - Landing of the national troops on Roanoke Island, under cover of the Union gunboats Delaware and Picket." Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. March 8, 1862. p. 245. (accessed October 11, 2012).




Additional information about the Pickett. My father, Leroy Abb Carver, was the owner/operator/engineer/designer and sole fabricator of his own Cutter Suction Dredge. His father, Royall Smith Carver learned about dredge operation and its technology. in VA shipyards. Royall himself built a wooden flat barge style dredge with a pile-driver on it. The two men were very prolific in their day-- cutting in canals for boat access for boat house construction, and cleaning canals out, which had become filled in. But the wooden dredge fell into decay because of wormwood. Useful engine parts were salvaged for a new and better more powerful steel dredge. After WWII, Leroy returned uninjured and used his GI money for his new business start-up---adding on a Marina,- and Machine Shop. Before the war, father and son built bulkheads, drove pilings , firmed up ground to make it stable..they pumped sand to enrich low -lying lots. Beach-front which were threadlike could be widened to become more accessible. enjoyable and useful and more valuable. They were the go to repair business in town. They successfully repaired Disston chainsaws for loggers...Repaired dump trucks. Leroy designed and sold Dinkys to professional loggers. These hauled logs out of the log-woods. Dad had to design and fabricate a system of very large floating pontoons, with flanged elbows flexible rubber sleeves that float... all of it has to bolt up These pipelines were all fiberglass over steel and had to be tested and checked to see if they were waterproof. They would rust and have to be cut open and resealed and reseamed...refiberglassed. ITCHY. The dredge had to have all- level working pontoons ---lined up a train. successfully . topump the slurry to reach the shore. There could be no telling how long or short the pipeline length was going to need to be. Or what a job was going to dictate. Some dredges need a additional pumping-station to push the slurry at mid-length so it wont stop and harden into concrete. The pontoons had to have a saddle welded and fitted to the top of them and the pipeline rested on top of the saddle,,It was a delicate patient thing watching this being laid out in anticipation of seeing the long line of pontoons being unloaded and then seeing the dredge crank up and finally seeing first water come from the pipe then thin slurry and then real digging --thick sand coming out as you hear the dredge cutter-head whirl and bite and groan... as the teeth chew down on something...The operator will pull back on the winch and you will know it. Choking sputtering ...An underwater vacuum cleaning session ensues......Leroy's dredge successfully created two municipal city Waterfronts: New Bern NC and Washington NC. During the Washington project, it was Leroy Carver who discovered the Union USS Gunboat Pickett. A bronze cannon bolt assembly piece, used to secure the cannon to the deck,weighing 11 lbs. was sucked up through his pipeline-along with-shrapnel, a wire, and a thermometer back. All of this loudly cane gushing out of the pipeline. A gray slightly foamy green-tinged slurry. --about the same color of a raw oyster. The objects which were in the slurry were quickly retrieved ---by very hungry bystanders. Treasure hunters were combing over whatever popped up out of the slurry from bottom of the river and keeping all of it.... The scavenging divers began pounced on the sunken rig. $ signs were in their eyes. Carter Leary took Leroy's ONE artifact That He, Leroy found. Carter insisted on borrowing it. But it was not merely borrowed. That artifact left for 40 years and was in the Leary home in Carter's mind, for good. Leroy Carver was never once mentioned by local divers as having discovered the location of the Union Gunboat. No local divers independently recovered artifacts before Carver's dredge discovered the US Gunboat Pickett uncovered it be dredging while working on a municipal dredging project in 1969. Until WDN's Eugene Tinklepaugh reported on the Pickett's story nothing was in print citing Leroy Carver with discovering where the Pickett was lying. Dr Richard Lawrence from Kure Beach came and gave a talk about the history of the Pickett and had papers about getting it on the National Registry of Historic Places. I do not know the current status of whether the Pickett has been added at this time. At the meeting, Leroy Carver donated his Pickett Artifact, the retrieved one, Carter Leary had for decades which was presumed to be lost to us. Dr Lawrence is the caretaker for property of the US Govt...which the Pickett qualifies as US ARMY CIVIL WAR UNION relic. My Father worked at Lake Mattamuskeet andd at Leechville land conservation projects. I wish I had access to all of the records...and could know all the places his dredge went and pumped sand. But I was too young. The Name of the Business was Carvers Dredging Service My Father also ran a business for his parents when they finally were able to open it: Carvers Service Station This gas station became Carvers Drive In...My Father's father was in poor health so my grandmother opened a restaurant and sold short order foods...namely chili dogs (no dog) and her hand-stirred shaved ice cokes, My father merged his dredging business and added a full-service marina in the early 60's and he sold Chris Craft Boats and Johnson Outboard Motors, with OMC Parts, and Cypress Skis. It was a fully supplied marina.


A week ago today, Leroy and Phyllis Carver gave up a piece of their hearts. It weighed about 13 pounds,
was shaped like a winch and made of brass. Some 40 years ago, Leroy Carver was dredging out a channel
in the Tar River. He needed the sand for a parking lot on the other side of the river from Washington. "In a
matter of days, we were digging into the Picket," he recalled. A shipwreck from 100 years ago lay at the
bottom of the Tar. Carver's sand dredge hit its hull, causing quite a commotion. The treasure Leroy Carver
uncovered jamming up his dredge pipe that dreamy day in the 1960s, consisted of a winch-shaped wing nut
and pieces of chain. "History books tell us the Confederate soldiers put up a chain that was connected to
pilings all the way across the river to keep the Yankees from going up the river," Carver explained. The
wing nut that had clogged up his pipe was part of a compressor handle for a 12-pound howitzer boat
carriage. The carriage belonged to a U.S. Army gunboat, which sank during the Civil War. Linda Clark,
Leroy and Phyllis Carver's daughter, initiated the get-together last week with the Underwater Archaeology
branch of the Department of Cultural Resources to turn the relic over to the proper authorities. "I wantedmy daddy to get the credit for discovering the Picket," Clark explained. Before he accidentally began
pumping parts of the relic out of the river with his dredge, the ship's whereabouts were unknown, she
pointed out. The Picket sank in the Tar River, upstream from the current U.S. Highway 17 bridge in
Washington, on Sept. 6, 1862, according to state documents. The state department has nominated the
shipwreck for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
By Eugene L. Tinklepaugh – Washington Daily News©

Washington Daily News - Washington,NC,USA (03/03/05) Linda C. Clark November 2019

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